European Commission Opinions to National Courts in Antitrust Cases: Consistent Application and the Judicial-Administrative Relationship
The House of Lords judgment in Inntrepreneur v Crehan, where the court did not consider itself bound by a finding of the European Commission, demonstrated the potentially contentious and constitutionally significant nature of the relationship between the European Commission and national judges in the field of antitrust. The decentralisation of enforcement of Articles 81 and 82EC arguably carries greater risks of divergent application of EC antitrust enforcement rules. While national competition authorities are linked through the European Competition Network, no such mechanism exists for national courts as this would offend against the principles of judicial independence and procedural autonomy. The Commission, as primary enforcer of competition law in the Community, has therefore attempted to complement the formal judicial 'dialogue' of the European Court of Justice's preliminary reference procedure with a strengthening of its own relations with the national courts. After addressing the broader theoretical context of administrative intervention in judicial decision-making, this paper examines the use of one tool to promote consistent application of EC antitrust rules - non-binding European Commission opinions and amicus curiae briefs to national courts in antitrust proceedings under Article 15 of the Modernisation Regulation. It identifies national cases where the Commission has actually intervened under Article 15 and assesses the nature and efficacy of this soft law mechanism. One finding is the difficulty in finding and tracing the cases, making the impact of the Commission’s advice difficult to judge. Transparency is desirable for legitimacy, legal certainty, and if Commission opinions are to have the most impact for promoting convergent application of EC antitrust rules among national judges.
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